In NADA’s Spring 2013 Car Shopper Preference Survey, both car and truck buyers unanimously selected “Quality & Dependability” as the most important factor considered when determining which new vehicle to purchase.

While both car and truck buyers placed “Quality & Dependability” well above any other trait, truck buyers placed slightly higher weight on it, with 80% of respondents considering it either important or very important versus 78% for car buyers.

“Fuel Economy”, the factor cited as being most important in NADA’s fall 2012 survey, was selected as the second-most important factor considered by car shoppers, while SUV and truck shoppers placed “Brand” in the number two spot.

Survey Methodology

Through a series of questions, consumers were asked to rate the importance of factors commonly considered when shopping for a new vehicle.  These included advanced technologies (Smartphone Connectivity, Navigation System, and Driver-Assist Technologies), items associated with the cost of ownership (Warranty Coverage, Insurance Fees, Maintenance Fees, and Depreciation), Versatility & Utility, Power & Performance, Safety, Brand, Vehicle Design, Fuel Economy, Quality & Dependability, and the Availability of Discounts. Truck buyers were also asked to rate “Towing & Payload Capacity”.

Respondents were asked to select one of five answers for each factor – Very Unimportant, Unimportant, Neither Important or Unimportant, Important, and Very Important – that most closely reflected the importance of each when deciding which new car or truck to purchase.  Respondents were also asked to identify the factor considered most important in determining which new vehicle to purchase.

Segment Composition – Car and Truck Buyers Evenly Represented

Of the survey participants visiting, 50.8% consisted of those driving trucks, including utility vehicles and vans, while the remaining 49.2% were made up of car drivers. Overall, the highest representation of drivers came from the “Pickup Truck” and “Midsize Car” segments, at 23.2% and 21.2%, respectively. Aside from “Midsize Utility,” at 12.4%, all other segments had a total percentage of respondents of less than 10%.

While the survey showed that truck and SUV owners made up the majority of respondents, the percentage of those looking to purchase a new truck or SUV fell to 48.9% versus the 51.1% interested in buying a car.

A closer look at car-only drivers revealed that 77% expressed the desire to buy another car, while 74% of truck drivers were in the market for another pickup truck, utility vehicle, or van. So while the percentage of vehicles driven by survey participants currently favors trucks, results suggest that the future interests of drivers are leaning towards car purchases.

Passenger Car Results

As with NADA’s fall 2012 survey, car shoppers again placed significant emphasis on “Vehicle Design”, “Safety”, and “Fuel Economy”, with an average of 69% of respondents citing these factors as either important or very important.

On average, 60% of car respondents rated “Versatility & Utility” and “Power & Performance” as either important or very important, while shoppers rated three of the four cost of ownership factors – “Warranty Coverage, Depreciation, and Maintenance Fees” – as either important or very important 58% of the time.  Insurance fees were considered important by only 50% of car buyers, with the remaining 50% split between “Neither” (27%) or “Unimportant” (23%).

Car shoppers cited “Navigation System, Smartphone Connectivity, and Driver-Assist Technologies” as the least important features, with 44%, 41%, and 36% of survey participants, respectively, considering these items as either unimportant or very unimportant.

With the advent of smartphones, particularly with its navigation capabilities, it is understandable that the desirability of navigation systems seems to be waning. On the flip side however, car drivers appear to be apathetic about linking their phones to their cars to take advantage of the car’s ability to operate other phone features while driving. Also, despite continual advancements in various technologies to assist drivers, respondents voiced indifference, with results suggesting that such features are of little need in the eyes of car shoppers.

When asked to select the factor considered most important in determining his or her next new vehicle purchase, respondents chose “Quality & Dependability, Fuel Economy, Brand, Vehicle Design, and Power & Performance” as the top five selections, making up over 67% of all votes. Among the top five factors, “Quality & Dependability” was most desired, with 23.3% of car consumers identifying it as such, while “Power & Performance” was fifth, with 8.1% of the vote.

When parsing data between mainstream and luxury respondents, mainstream buyers revealed the same preferences for the most part, with the only difference being a higher importance placed on “Safety”, while not surprisingly, the demands of luxury car buyers were for characteristics expected of a premium car. Once again, “Quality & Dependability” was viewed as most important, at 22.9%, but only 1.8% of luxury consumers voted “Fuel Economy” highest. Instead, buyers placed a premium on “Vehicle Design,” as 20.2% specified it as the chief component in their purchase decision, followed by “Brand,” at 15.6%.

Quite contrary to the volume crowd, among sports car shoppers, “Power & Performance” shot to the top of the list of most essential elements, at 28.2%, followed by a tie between “Brand” and “Vehicle Design,” at 17.3%. Interestingly, only 2.7% elected “Fuel Economy” and “Safety” as most important, while no voters deemed “Maintenance Fees” as critical.

SUV/Truck Shopper Results

Truck and SUV shoppers had similar preferences as car shoppers with regards to what factors they place greatest importance on when determining what vehicle to purchase next, although the ranking of each factor was slightly different.

In addition to “Quality & Dependability”, truck and SUV respondents rated “Safety, Versatility & Utility, Vehicle Design, and Fuel Economy” as the top five factors considered either important or very important.

Matching car respondents, on average 58% of truck and SUV shoppers rated ownership cost factors (excluding “Insurance Fees”) as being important or very important, and those looking for a truck or SUV also declared “Smartphone Connectivity, Navigation System, and Driver-Assist Technologies,” at 40%, 39%, and 32%, respectively, as either unimportant or very unimportant items.

Regarding the factors considered most important in deciding which new SUV or truck to purchase, responses were nearly identical to those of car shoppers with the only exception being the inclusion of “Versatility & Utility” as fifth-most important at the expense of “Power & Performance.” The most vital factors included “Quality & Dependability, Brand, Fuel Economy, and Vehicle Design,” with truck shoppers placing slightly higher importance on “Brand” over “Fuel Economy” compared to consumers in the market for a car.

Interestingly, when asked to rate the importance of “Towing & Payload Capacity,” only 50% of respondents considered it important or very important. On the other hand, when asked to consider all the purchase factors and select that which is most important, the feature ranked sixth, with 7% of the total vote. So while “Towing & Payload Capacity” in and of itself may not be a high determinant of which trucks or utility vehicles are most appealing, the characteristic still weighs fairly heavily in the overall buying decision when evaluating all aspects of a utility vehicle.

A deeper dive into specific segments, particularly to reflect vehicle size, demonstrates the polarity of buyer preferences depending on if one is in the market for a larger pickup versus a small or medium-sized truck. Isolating prospective “Large Utility” and “Pickup Truck” purchasers, the feature of “Towing & Payload Capacity” becomes more essential, jumping to third place with 12.3% of the vote, while “Fuel Economy” drops to sixth place, with only 7.0% declaring it as critical.

Among “Small and Midsize Utility” shoppers however, “Fuel Economy” rises to second place, with 12.0% rating it as the most important aspect, while “Towing & Payload Capacity” plunges to twelfth place, with only 1.8% of participants identifying it as most important. In addition, “Safety” becomes of much greater concern among people purchasing small or midsize utility vehicles, as 8.5% of respondents cited it as imperative, thus placing it in fourth place, just above “Brand.”

Survey Overview

NADA’s New Car Shopper Preference Survey is regularly conducted on to assess the importance of features commonly considered by consumers when deciding which new car or truck to purchase.  Survey results are used to enhance NADA’s used vehicle valuation efforts and are also intended to raise vehicle manufacturer awareness as to the qualities considered to be of greatest value to consumers.

The latest NADA Car Shopper Preference Survey was conducted on in May 2013. Nearly 1,700 survey respondents shared what types of vehicles they were looking to purchase in addition to what they were currently driving, while close to 1,400 participants shared which features they considered most vital when selecting their next car or truck.